Nationwide FEMA Emergency Alert successful in San Francisco

With everything else going on in the nation, the Federal Emergency Management Agency conducted its every other year nationwide tests of the Emergency Alert and Wireless Alert Systems. In America's early days, town criers sounded alerts. Today, America has a sophisticated continental crier.

Federal officials announced Wednesday morning's test of the national Emergency Alert System (EAS), would take place at 2:20 p.m. EST all across the country. 

Some alerts arrived a few minutes early or a couple of minutes late; the first alert here came in at 11:17 a.m. PST. In a test, we had three phones that were placed in the same location, all received the alert signal but within a seven-second time frame.  At Pier 39, we heard similar results.

"Seems to have worked for me. Yeah, I got the information wherever I am," said Chad Harris from Michigan.

Leah Rawlings lives across the Atlantic and has a British cell phone. 

"I was just surprised. I didn't know what it was and why it was going off and that was it really. We all wondered what was going on, what the noise was," said Rawlings. 

She says other foreign tourists received the signal as well.

"From my perspective, it was a very successful exercise," said Mary Ellen Caroll, director of San Francisco Emergency Services. "So, regardless of whether you're visiting or you work here or work here, there can be emergencies that will impact you.".

EAS enables authorized officials to issue emergency alerts and warnings over many widespread systems, including cell phones, cable, satellite, broadcast TV as well as AM and FM radio. The 26-year-old system has been improved to the point it is now addressable.

That means that it can be put out nationwide or targeted to specific states, regions, counties, or cities. Localized weather, disaster, or even AMBER alerts are put out this way along with other systems such as Nixle. 

"It's nice to know if there's a child missing, especially with me being a mother myself, that's a good thing to have," said Rawlings.

The first and most important purpose of EAS has never been used so far; it's when the U.S. president needs to immediately address the nation in times of emergencies, disasters, or war.